Dinner with the Boys
Review by Raphael Badagliacca
7 May 2015
Who doesn't want a bigger kitchen these days? Given the choice, who wouldn't prefer to eat outside (al fresco) in the nice weather as Dom (Richard Zavaglia) and Charlie (Dan Lauria - who also wrote the play) do for one more cunning, hilarious meal in "Dinner with the Boys" — a play that, like its protagonists, has survived to live large under the lights on 42nd Street, just off Broadway. If you know what's good for you, you'll go see it tonight.
Living large means a bigger stage. A bigger stage means a bigger kitchen where all of the drama takes place. It also means room for a table in the garden where Dom and Charlie can savor, with heartfelt humor, forks and knives in hand, everything that has brought them to this point in their lives.
"Savor" is the word. This was my second helping of this show. Like a favorite dish, heroically served first by NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch, NJ - a theater with a reputation for introducing plays that go places - last night's performance did more than remind me why "Dinner with the Boys" is worth savoring.
The larger stage added a new dimension that went beyond words. It gave Ray Abruzzo as Big Anthony the physical space to match the repartee of the conversation with acrobatics that brought the house down. The musical ingredient produced comic operatic moments.
Director Frank Megna, a harsh critic of his own work, talked about the challenges of maintaining a sense of intimacy in the larger venue, something which his directing, the manner of the actors, and the vividness of the stories they tell clearly achieved. As I noted last time, the reality off-stage characters assume, who live only in the words of the actors, is a testament to everyone's excellence.
As Dom, the indomitable cook, will tell you to succeed, you need the right recipe. I can't do better than repeat from my earlier review, this show's recipe for success: Take three parts excellent actor (Richard Zavaglia, Ray Abruzzo, and Dan Lauria himself), take one mob theme in which we have all been so well-schooled, take at least a dozen dishes so deliciously described that we can almost taste them, mix in laughs liberally, add wit as sharp as a kitchen knife, sprinkle with musical language refrains (you'll see what I mean), spice it all up, add a twist, and another twist, and... you have a raucous comedy that makes a serious point about senseless violence and the value of kindness.
You have to see it once, to see why it's worth seeing twice.
Just like last time, all of this has made me very hungry.
"While Frank Megna, the director, does what he can to animate the cast, there is no getting around that this is a modest show best suited for a far smaller space. Too many laughs get swallowed up here, or never take off at all."
Ken Jaworowski for New York Times
"If torture and cannibalism are topics that tickle your funny bone, this grisly 'comedy' is made to order."
Sandy MacDonald for Time Out New York
"It all seems awfully dull and distasteful to me, but then so does the script's tiresome Italian and Jewish character stereotypes and its sophomoric gags about food and cooking, as when Dom complains about tenderizing something tough: 'I beat my meat for an hour.'"
Michael Sommers for New Jersey Newsroom
"Dan Lauria's expert comic skills aren't enough to lift this formulaic Mafia-themed farce."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
External links to full reviews from popular press...
New York Times - Time Out - New Jersey Newsroom - Hollywood Reporter
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